Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Hazy Season in Penang Also Brings the Durian Season

During the past 2 or 3 weeks Penang, as well as all of Malaysia and much of Southeast Asia, has come under a blanket of haze. This is a yearly occurence that is a result of fires in Indonesia, which are usually set to burn away dead vegetation on palm oil plantations. This is not a pleasant time for those with respiratory problems, as the air quality is very poor and many people have difficulty breathing.

To make this hazy season more bearable this time of year also brings us the King of Fruit, the Durian. Malaysia is famous for its durian, of which there are many different varieties. Durian is only found in Southeast Asia. The first time I had durian was in Vietnam and I liked it immediately. Durian is the kind of food that you either hate or love. There is nothing in between. Even Andrew Zimmer of the TV show, Bizarre Foods, could not eat it, even though he has eaten grubs, worms and various animal parts, most of us wouldn't eat. The smell of the durian, which some people have described as like dirty baby diapers, is very strong and could be considered offensive. In Asia they are not allowed in hotels or on buses or planes.

Last evening I enjoyed 3 varieties of durian with friends and neighbors. The tastes ranged from a little bitter to very sweet, but I found them all enjoyable. As we were sitting outside eating our durian, a couple of our European neighbors came by, holding their noses. They politely declined our offer to have some of our treats. We all had a good laugh at their obvious dislike of this fruit. I think most Westerners do not like durian and probably would not even taste it, after experiencing the smell. I remember bringing some to work at my hospital one time. I had purchased some frozen durian,  imported from Thailand, from an Asian grocery store in Boston and brought it to the pathology lab where I worked. Not surprisingly only a few of my colleagues could get past the smell and actually taste it. Only one person actually liked it. Even my friends who were born in Southeast Asia did not like it. The smell of the durian enveloped the entire department and many people thought it was from the morgue. I ended up having to dispose of the durian remains in a red bio-hazard bag!

If you live in Malaysia or you come here for a visit you owe it to yourself to at least give the King of Fruit a try. I guarantee you will either love it or hate it.